“Science in Canada is at a tipping point,” said James Turk, executive director of CAUT. “From the muzzling of government scientists to the serious underfunding of basic research at our universities and colleges, the federal government is making dumb choices that will have serious consequences for all Canadians.”
In response to a growing outcry from researchers and academics, CAUT launched a major national campaign April 25, “Get Science Right”, to highlight the negative impact of the government’s approach to science, to propose a new direction, and to encourage Canadians to take action to protect scientific integrity.
“In the last federal budget, the government didn’t provide a single cent in new funding for basic science — the research that is the foundation for real innovation,” Turk said. “This will mean that at university campuses across the country valuable scientific research will not be funded, many current projects will run out of money and labs will be closed.”
Over the past few years, base funding for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada has fallen by 10.1 per cent in real dollar terms. For the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the decline is pegged at 6.4 per cent and for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, at 7.5 per cent.
“The government cuts means less money for basic research,” said Turk. “But the policies of the councils themselves have made this bad situation worse as they, under directives from the federal government, devote more of their diminishing funds to fettered research.”
In its 2013–2014 report on plans and priorities, NSERC indicated it had cut its spending on bursaries and scholarships by 21 per cent since 2010–2011, and its spending on “advancement of knowledge” by more than 12 per cent, while it increased its spending for “research partnerships” by 23 per cent.
As part of the federal government’s reorientation of science and research priorities, Canada’s Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear announced last year that he envisioned the National Research Council becoming a “concierge” service offering one contact phone number for coordination of industry research and development needs. The recent federal budget allocated $121 million — three times the amount of new money allocated to the three granting councils combined — to implement the minister’s vision for the NRC.
CAUT’s campaign is calling on the government to reinvest in basic research, to make the research funding agencies arm’s length, and to establish a Parliamentary Science Officer to provide legislators with independent and non-partisan advice.
“Canada’s university and college researchers and scientists are saying enough is enough,” Turk said. “It’s time to stop making wrong choices, and start making right ones. We owe it to all Canadians to get science right.” "